“This goes no further than this room Winnie.”
“Yes Sir … I mean No Sir … I mean … I mean I won’t carry tales.”
“Good enough.” Thinking for a moment he asked, “You know that Chris and Cliff are twins.”
“Sure, everyone knows that. They don’t look anything alike but they’re twins.”
Surprising me he said, “Well actually they started as triplets. Cliff had an identical twin and Chris was the fraternal triplet.”
“Yeah. Whoa.” He leaned forward in the chair and sighed. “Candace had had problems from the start. They didn’t find out until she was six months along that she was actually carrying triplets. Cliff’s identical brother was so much smaller than he was that they missed him on the sonograms until she was that far along. They call it being a discordant twin … or in this case a triplet. Cliff was the largest of the three boys and is still head and shoulders taller than Chris. Cliff and his identical shared a placenta where Chris had his own, but Cliff was still the dominant in the womb. On top of that there was some rare complication where they were sharing blood somehow – I don’t know the whole story – and that for whatever reason Cliff got the lion’s share of the nutrition like he was cutting the other two out. After a certain point Cliff’s identical just couldn’t compete and didn’t develop properly. All three were born alive but nothing the doctor’s did could save Charles.”
“Charles was the name of Cliff’s twin … I mean identical triplet … no not … you know what I mean. Charles was another brother only he died?”
“Yeah, he did Winnie and that’s when Candace … well, she didn’t deal with it very well. She developed some serious depression issues and …” He stopped and sighed. “She got pretty irrational there for a while. She kept imagining that it was somehow Cliff’s fault that his identical didn’t make it and that if they put him and Chris together again that Cliff would hurt him. Vance got her help and she got better but she never … bonded I guess is what they call it … with Cliff who actually had his own health issues at birth and had to stay in the NICU a couple of weeks longer than Chris. She interfered with Chris and Cliff bonding and they aren’t nearly as close as you would expect twin brothers to be under normal circumstance. Candace’s fears were so bad that she even had Vance get fixed so she didn’t have to worry about getting pregnant again. Only as such things go they waited a month too late and Candace must have already been pregnant. She didn’t realize it though until she was out of her first trimester and she’d continued to take her antidepressants.”
“I know that is what caused Cevin to be born with a weak heart. Mrs. Montgomery has used that story to put the fear of God into girls about doing drugs and drinking if they might get pregnant. It always makes me embarrassed for Cevin being used like a prop during a lecture.”
“Well, I’ve often wondered the same thing myself but it is none of our business. However as such things go Cevin’s problems are also why they got that huge settlement when the boys were all little. But …”
“Even though Candace got better apparently there were still some hidden issues she hadn’t dealt with. And the stress and worry over Cevin’s health sent her into another spiral. Vance didn’t know it but she’d … she’d started to say things to Cliff. Things a young boy just isn’t going to understand, isn’t equipped to deal with. About how it was his fault about Charles and for that matter Cevin too. It was his fault she was depressed and miserable. How even before he was born she’d known he was different from the others. She even took him to the cemetery several times and had him just sit and contemplate his brother’s grave and how sorry he was for killing him.”
“That’s completely horrible,” I told him appalled.
“She was sick Honey. No one knew how sick ‘cause she was able to hide it so well from the rest of us. She wasn’t completely responsible for her actions.”
“I don’t care. You don’t tell a little kid stuff like that.”
“No you don’t.” Uncle Carmichael steepled his fingers and then looked at me like he was debating telling me the next part. “A little while after that Vance took his family to the lake for a weekend getaway to celebrate Cevin’s recovery from his latest hospital stay. Though he’d noticed things weren’t quite right with everyone, he thought it was all just worry and stress. At the lake he noticed the other boys had started to treat Cliff differently than they used to. He was used to Candace struggling to bond with Cliff who was a handful even back then but not the other boys doing it. He decided it was Cliff stirring the pot somehow and that he’d need to be a little stricter with him. Inadvertently Vance did the worst thing possible. Cliff … Cliff tried to … well Winnie he was just a little boy and didn’t really understand what he was doing – barely out of kindergarten if I remember correctly – but he tried to walk into the lake during a storm that had blown in. Vance barely got him out in time because Cliff had been so determined.”
Horrified at the picture he was painting I whispered, “Oh my God.”
“Well needless to say Vance eventually got a few things out of him and confronted Candace who then had what amounted to another breakdown. Candace went into a residential program for almost a month and when she came out they all went into family counseling. Vance and Candace also went into marriage counseling because Vance was just about ready to leave her at that point for what she’d almost caused Cliff to do. Everything got mostly ironed out but you can’t take back things like that; they affect you and change you. Cliff is different from his brothers but there are reasons for it. Candace tries but her chemistry and hormones got just too messed up and she’s going to be on medication for the rest of her life. She has her good days and her bad ones and a couple of months ago the doctors had to start weaning her off the meds that had worked the best for her and trying other things because of all of the regulations that are changing what can be prescribed and to whom. Cliff … well he’s a good boy but he isn’t always an easy kid and now you know why.”
“Oh my God,” I whispered again. “Oh … oh crud. I can’t tell him I know. He’ll … oh my God. No wonder …”
“Yeah. And as for one of the main reasons you don’t like Cliff – and which I’ve watched him real careful for once I noticed he was noticing you – you can guess his relationship with his mother is probably one of the reasons why he’s gone through girlfriends at the rate he has. Like most guys his age he wants one but at the same time I’m not sure he can bring himself to trust someone that much and breaks up with them before he’ll risk them hurting him. Vance said he’s been more attached to you than all the other girls he’s taken out.”
“Cliff and I have never gone out … Heck, I’ve never been on a date with any boy much less one with Lothario Montgomery. It’s not like you’re imaging. We just kind of irritate each other the right way.”
Uncle Carmichael asked, “Did that last sentence make any kind of sense?”
I looked at Uncle Carmichael and grimaced. “It made sense, just not the kind of sense I want anyone else understanding; not even you. Oh geez this is a complete and total mess.”
“Because … like now I have to … I don’t know … be understanding and all that kind of stuff. I can’t just despise him with impunity.”
Uncle Carmichael finally lost his serious look and nearly laughed out loud. “Oh yeah and that’s going to be such a bad thing. I wish your mother were here to help you out Winnie but there’s just me and I know I’m making a hash of this but … give poor ol’ Cliff another chance.” Since I’d never been interested in giving him a first chance, giving Cliff a second chance was a tall order; even after hearing how hard he’d had it.
I was tired and had a lot on my mind and Uncle Carmichael needed to get going so he could pick Christine up from her job at the florist downstairs. They had to get home before curfew set in or they’d be stuck in the hospital all night just like I was. We said bye and then Christine called upstairs to see if I needed anything from home. “Yeah,” I answered sourly. “My own bed.”
She laughed but reminded me, “It’s safer for you here. And we’re staying over at Barb’s so …”
I cringed. Barb was Uncle Carmichael’s longtime girlfriend. I try to like her for my uncle’s sake but she’s never been my favorite person in the world. They had been close to getting married, but then my parents died when something went wrong with our furnace and filled the house with carbon monoxide. I’d been at a sleepover or I’d have gone with them just like our dog and bird had. Uncle Carmichael was the closest relative that could take me – the only relative that could take me according to the State – and he’d refused to see me put in foster care just because it “crimped his plans a bit.” He’d put off the wedding and for some reason in almost five years it has never gotten put back on. It is kind of mean for me to think but I figure that if Barb is going to give it away for free, Uncle Carmichael isn’t going to feel the rush to pay for it with a ring.
“OK. Have fun,” I told her in a falsely happy voice.
Christine laughed again and hung up since she knew how I really felt but found it amusing. I was left with only my thoughts to occupy me since no one had seen fit to give me back the remote and the nurses that came and went decided I didn’t need it either. It wasn’t until one of the janitorial staff came in to mop that I was able to talk someone in to handing it over. I still didn’t turn the TV on until a little later because the Nutritionist had come to harangue me for not eating the mushy sawdust – tasteless, mushy sawdust I might add – that they put on my tray morning, noon, and night.
After a little dickering we agreed that if I ate all of my dinner, kept it down, and then did the same for breakfast she’d make a few adjustments including allowing me some salt and something with more substance than Jell-O and over-boiled noodles … assuming the doctor approves of course. Of course. But if he doesn’t I’m considering bribing Cliff to smuggle me in something I can actually chew that won’t turn to mush in my mouth and slither down my throat.